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Groups challenge EPA over hot river water

SALMON HAVE ENDURED hot river temperatures, and that’s the focus of a lawsuit by a coalition of environmental groups aimed at the Environmental Protection Agency. The suit calls for plans relating to temperature pollution in Northwest rivers, including the Columbia and Snake.

File photo by Adam Lapierre
SALMON HAVE ENDURED hot river temperatures, and that’s the focus of a lawsuit by a coalition of environmental groups aimed at the Environmental Protection Agency. The suit calls for plans relating to temperature pollution in Northwest rivers, including the Columbia and Snake.



A coalition of environmental groups has followed up on its plan to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over hot river temperatures — and the impact on salmon.

Groups, including Hood River-based Columbia Riverkeeper, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, naming EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in his official capacity as defendant. Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s choice to helm the agency, was confirmed by the Senate earlier this month.

The legal complaint, filed Feb. 23, seeks to compel the EPA to “issue a pollution budget, called a total maximum daily load (‘TMDL’) for temperature pollution in the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington,” its text states.

The EPA began preparing such a report in 2000, and released a draft TDML in 2003, which identified dams on the Columbia and Snake as contributing to high water temperatures. However, the agency didn’t issue a final version of the TDML plan.

“We need a plan to deal with climate change and rising water temperatures in the Columbia, or we may be telling our kids stories about salmon instead of teaching them to fish,” Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said.

Groups suing the EPA include Riverkeeper, Idaho Rivers United, Snake River Waterkeeper, Institute for Fisheries Resources and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association.

“Water temperatures in the Columbia mean life or death to salmon. Our members’ livelihoods depend on healthy salmon runs,” said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources. “It’s simply unacceptable to let hot water kill otherwise healthy adult salmon before they can spawn.”

The legal action marks the fruition of the coalition’s plans last summer to challenge the EPA; the groups filed a similar notice of intent to sue the agency in August.

The complaint’s text gives a stark description of recent salmon kills due to high water temperatures. In summer 2015, plaintiffs said, “roughly 250,000 adult sockeye salmon died in the Columbia and Snake Rivers because warm water prevented them from successfully migrating upstream.”

Proponents assert that dams on the Columbia and Snake shouldn’t be removed. Dam advocates say they provide major benefits such as electricity, irrigation water and barge traffic. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the major dams in the Columbia Gorge, including Bonneville and The Dalles Dam.

The groups’ legal complaint is No. 2:15-cv-289 in the U.S. District Court Western District of Washington.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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